Anger at ship scuttling

Anger at ship scuttling

By Ben Courtice

HOBART — The wreck of the BHP ship Iron Baron on July 10, and the resultant slick of 300 tonnes of fuel oil off the north coast of Tasmania, is one the state's worst environmental disasters. An estimated 4000 fairy penguins, among other species, have died in the slick.

BHP decided to scuttle the ship at a site east of Flinders Island in 4000 metres of water, despite worries that the rough waters would cause it to break up before reaching the spot.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency stipulated that it must be free of any oil, grease, solvents, paint or other chemicals before being sunk. As it was towed toward its grave on July 27, it left a trail of oil 10 kilometres long. According to the Tasmanian Conservation Trust (TCT), the ship still contained over 100 tonnes of oil.

"When a ship is damaged, the first priority should be to protect the environment. The objective of the salvage should be to remove any dangerous contaminants in the cargo or oil, not salvage the ship", said Suzy Manigan, TCT nature conservation coordinator. The TCT has pointed out the risks to seal colonies and migratory whales in the area.

The Cape Barren Islands Aboriginal community condemned the decision to scuttle the ship, made without consulting them. They fear that their beaches and fishing areas will be polluted by oil.

Greenpeace spokesperson Denise Boyd said, "If the [national plan to combat pollution of the sea by oil] and Australia's largest company, BHP, are unable to handle a 400 tonne spill, how will they cope with a major spill in areas like the Barrier Reef ... which bulk tankers traverse regularly?".